BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — When James Daniels first learned who the Chicago Bears selected with their top pick in the draft this year, his mind immediately circled back to Sept. 9, 2017, at Jack Trice Stadium.
Suiting up for the Hawkeyes, Daniels was on the field for the highest-scoring game in the history of the Cy-Hawk series — two teams trading punches all the way through to a 44-41 overtime victory for Iowa over rival Iowa State.
That was the first time Daniels got a taste of running back David Montgomery. Needless to say, the Bears’ second-year lineman was happy to hear the ex-Cyclone was going to running with Chicago and not against him.
“I remember him scoring, (former Iowa back) Akrum (Wadley) scoring — they were just going back and forth,” Daniels said. “I’ve seen him play a lot and I was really happy to see us get an explosive back like that.”
When Montgomery learned that one of the main guys who’s going to pave his way this year used to wear gold and black, he said it was “bittersweet at first.”
“He beat me every time we played,” Montgomery said, laughing. “We really haven’t talked about it much. But James is a good guy. High-character guy. Definitely a good person to be around.”
Despite their differences in the NCAA ranks, these former Cy-Hawk rivals have more in common than just the color of their uniforms now. Both are former Ohio preps who hopped three states to the west for their college careers. The Bears thought enough of both players to take them high in the draft — Daniels in the second round of 2018 and Montgomery in the third round this year after trading up with New England.
They’re both adjusting to new roles this season as well. Montgomery as a rookie navigating his first NFL season. Daniels by moving into Chicago’s starting center slot after spending most of his first year at left guard.
Both players said aiding their transitions has been the experiences they gained in Iowa City and Ames, where fundamentals are stressed.
“Just the detail. Make sure you’re emphasizing all the small things and taking all the small things serious,” Montgomery said.
“You just have to go back to basics because no matter what game it is, practice or whatever, everything comes back to basics,” said Daniels. “No matter how big the situation is you just have to focus on basics and your technique and everything will work out.
“(The transition from guard to center) is going good. All of the linemen and quarterbacks have been helping me and the transition’s been very smooth.”
Montgomery, in particular, has drawn considerable intrigue throughout training camp. His pro debut during Thursday night’s preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers served as Bears fans’ first real taste of his talent — where he scored the team’s lone touchdown on a drive in which he touched the ball five times — and he’s been a hot commodity in Chicago since then.
But those who worked with Montgomery prior to the preseason had a good feeling the Bears drafted someone special. During his May visit to Dubuque for the Cyclone Tailgate Tour, Iowa State coach Matt Campbell said Montgomery has landed in a perfect situation for both himself and his new team.
“You talk about that organization, the tradition of the Chicago Bears, really what they’re building with a 12-4 season a year ago and a lot of success,” Campbell said. “David’s got a chance to go in and compete and help what they’ve already got started there. To be able to bring a guy with the magnitude of David into their culture, on my end, I couldn’t be prouder.”
At camp last week, Bears running backs coach Charles London said Montgomery’s range could make him an immediate impact player in Chicago. The rookie joins an intriguing position group with offseason acquisition Mike Davis and reigning pro bowl scat-back Tarik Cohen all fighting for carries.
“We just really liked his versatility,” London said. “He caught a lot of passes at Iowa State and it wasn’t just out of the backfield. He caught stuff split out, in the slot. You saw his versatility there. Obviously you saw his ability to run the ball and to break tackles which was something that we liked.
“Everybody raved about the kid, that he was a special kid and everything he can do for us. So he was a hard kid not to like when we were going through the draft process.”
With a little more than three weeks until the Bears’ season opener against the Green Bay Packers, both Hawkeye State alums still have time to shore up their new roles. But every indication from Chicago brass is that both of these Iowa-based talents are expected to make significant impacts on what the Bears hope can be another playoff season.
Both players echoed coach Matt Nagy’s catch phrase: “Be you.” If their college prowess was any indication for the next level, Daniels and Montgomery should help form a potent Bears rushing attack for years to come.
“Be yourself,” Montgomery said. “Those guys have welcomed me with open arms, so it’s good for me just being able to be welcomed by everyone on the team.
“I’m excited. Just ready to play ball.”